June 16, 2003

Dave Uphoff

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Drop organized sports at Fieldcrest

This editorial will probably make me as popular as a muslim at a bar mitzvah. However, the sticker shock from my latest property tax bill has proprelled me to write about something that I have been thinking about for some time.

My property tax bill for 2002 has gone up almost 10% and most of it is due to the taxes for the Fieldcrest school district which increased by over 11%. Unless the Fieldcrest School Board ever decides to do something about the unfair TIF district in Wenona that is eroding the tax base for the school district, something else has to be done to reign in the ever increasing cost of education.

As an ex-MDR jock I have come to the conclusion that the school board must consider the possibility of eliminating the organized competitive sports program at Fieldcrest. Financing sports for both men and women is a costly venture and does nothing to educate our children. Say what you want about "winning one for the gipper", the fact is that organized sports as we have known for the last 70 years has become too expensive and too irrelevant in contemporary education.

The first reason for eliminating organized sports from our school system is to reduce the overall cost of education. The cost of educating a student has increased for many reasons. The need for technical enhancements such as computers has increased our cost. So has the need to provide support for special education students and handicapped students. Plus we are now paying teachers a living wage. Gone are the days of elderly single women willing to work long hours for peanuts.

The second reason for eliminating organized sports is because it has nothing to do with education and has more to do with a source of entertainment for the community. Why should our school spend thousands of dollars for uniforms and pay extra money for gas and a driver to bus kids to and from sports events, and pay the utilities for lighting a sports events? The chances of someone going on to play professional sports is almost nil while the likelihood that someone may suffer a debilitating injury from a sports event that hampers a person the rest of their life is much greater.

The third reason for eliminating organized sports is because it results in an elitism of athletes that creates a false sense of superiority among the starters on the varsity and creates animosity among those unable to play organized sports whether due to skill or financial hardship. In my day, it was well known that starting athletes received preferential treatment.

I was on the starting team of the MDR basketball team my junior and senior year. While this distinction was a source of pride to me it also gave me a sense of superiority. This false sense of superiority resulted in an arrested maturation that made it harder for me to adjust to the real world when I went to college. In college I was just another schmuck trying to get a degree.

I loved sports when I was young. But I enjoyed the pickup games with my friends on the sandlot or on the blacktop at the grade school much more than I did as a starter on the MDR five. The reason for that is because there was no pressure in the sandlot games whereas the games with MDR involved the pressure of playing well not only to keep your position on the starting five but also the pressure of representing the community. We must win back the Little Brown Jug!

I recommend that the school develop an intramural program that will promote sports as a way to stay in shape and as a way to allow everyone a chance to play. Why should only the elite few be allowed to play? No more bussing to Lexington on icy roads in the middle of the winter. Instead, develop a program that requires everyone to participate in intramural team sports and make up the teams so that each team has an equal chance to win. Football should be eliminated since it is the most costly sport and also the one that is most likely to cause a life long injury. Rather than having a sports program that emphasizes competition between communities, address the problem of obesity and inactivity in our youth by developing a physical education program that emphasizes the benefits of a life-long pursuit of exercise and diet.

Locals could still come to watch the intramural teams play. One of the best teams to ever represent Minonk was the Minonk Fans basketball team from the 1920's. However, it was not a high school team but rather a community team organized and supported by local residents and businesses. Why not let local businesses and residents organize their own team for playing competetive sports with other schools? They could draw from upon not only students but graduates and other local residents as well. One hundred years ago, local Minonk youths organized their own baseball teams to play other teams from out of town. Fifty years ago Minonk had a softball league that consisted of local young working men playing softball three nights a week. It drew large crowds and provided a source of recreation for the players.

Robert Hutchins eliminated organized sports and replaced it with an intramural program at the University of Chicago in the 1930's after the team had been a powerhouse under the leadership of Amos Alonzo Stagg. His actions created a furor at the time but now the University of Chicago is recognized as one of the best schools in the country. By eliminating organized sports at Fieldcrest and replacing it with an intramural program, our school district could have the distinction of leading the way into the future for other school districts. Let us be the first to realize that our current sports programs are an expensive and archaic burden on our education system.

We need to start somewhere to change a system that glorifies the athlete who can command millions of dollars for his services while a brilliant scientist who is working on a cure for cancer receives only a fraction of the athlete's pay. Sports as we now know will become obsolete as taxpayers like me will demand that we train the scientist, not the athlete.

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